Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), Ministry of Law (MinLaw), Ministry of National Development (MND)
- Consultation Period:
- 11 May 2023 - 31 May 2023
Public Consultation Paper On The Proposed Enhancements To The Community Dispute Management Framework
The public is invited to share feedback on the proposed enhancements to the Community Dispute Management Framework (“CDMF”). The consultation period for the proposed enhancements is from 11 May (6pm) to 31 May 2023 (6pm).
2. The CDMF is a holistic effort to address community disputes and to promote a more gracious and harmonious living environment for all. The dispute management framework1 seeks to:
a. Foster good relations among neighbours to minimise disputes;
b. Encourage neighbours to resolve disputes amicably;
c. Promote community mediation as the primary avenue if neighbours need help to resolve their differences; and
d. Settle unresolved disputes through the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (“CDRT”), as a last resort.
Proposed Enhancements to the CDMF
3. We live in a dense and high-rise city, so differences in the community are unavoidable. As far as possible, we want to facilitate neighbours coming together to communicate and resolve issues. This will make for a stronger community over time. Today, grassroots leaders (“GRLs”) and public officers also respond to complaints about disamenities in the neighbourhood and seek to facilitate mutual communication or mediation among neighbours. Most cases of disputes are resolved amicably. However, there is a small minority of neighbour disputes that are not resolved, or are very challenging to resolve. When these differences are not resolved early, they can significantly affect our living environment and the daily lives of residents.
4. Under the ForwardSG exercise, we seek to work with Singaporeans and community stakeholders to build a stronger social compact around socially responsible behaviour, in order to build a more harmonious living environment. In line with this, the proposed CDMF enhancements aim to: (a) encourage pro-social behaviour; (b) facilitate amicable resolution of disputes among neighbours; and (c) resolve neighbour disputes at an early stage, as far as possible.
5. Social norms play a pivotal role in establishing shared expectations on acceptable community behaviours and shaping considerate neighbour behaviour. We therefore intend to promote clearer social norms to encourage the self-management of behaviours within our community. Last year, the Ministry of National Development (“MND”) convened a Community Advisory Panel (“CAP”) on community noise which recommended an enhanced set of norms.
6. This paper focuses on seeking public feedback on legislative enhancements for more targeted enforcement and effective resolution of neighbour disputes. These include:
A. More Effective Government Intervention in Resolving Serious Neighbour Disputes
Threshold for More Effective Intervention in Resolving Neighbour Disputes
7. To facilitate efficient resolution of serious cases of neighbour disputes, we propose to consider more effective intervention to address the disputes and guide the parties towards mediation and dispute resolution. However, this intervention cannot be a substitute for the interlocking system of norm-setting, good neighbourly communication and the CDMF. It is not desirable for Government personnel to step in to resolve differences between neighbours all the time, as we do not wish to take away the community’s capacity to resolve disputes when they first occur. Our community will be weaker if this happens.
8. What qualifies as serious will be considered on a case-by-case basis, having regard to their context and circumstance. This would include, but is not limited to, cases where there are sustained disturbances created by individuals purposefully to harass others, and where attempts to facilitate dialogue and resolve the issue have failed.
Proposed Investigation Powers
9. To effectively intervene in serious cases of neighbour disputes, public officers and dedicated personnel acting on behalf of government agencies will require investigation powers with appropriate safeguards2 for the exercise of these powers. Examples include the power to:
a. Require an individual (e.g. the feedback provider, alleged nuisance-maker, or their neighbours) to state his/her particulars and provide a statement;
b. Gather evidence, including a photograph or video recording of the relevant premises;
c. Enter common areas, or a place of residence with consent of the legal owner or occupier or with suitable approval, to investigate whether there is unreasonable interference3 with the enjoyment or use of a place of residence, and if so, to find the source of that unreasonable interference; and
d. Install monitoring devices (e.g. noise sensors) to assist in investigation, in common areas of public or private residences and/or within a resident’s home, with consent of the legal owner or occupier or managing agent of the common areas, or by permission from the CDRT.
Proposed Enforcement Powers
10. In addition, we propose to put in place stronger enforcement powers for public officers and dedicated personnel acting on behalf of government agencies. Examples include the power to:
a. Issue a warning to the nuisance-maker;
b. Issue a Notice of Mandatory Mediation (“NMM”) requiring the relevant parties to attend mediation, if the dispute is assessed to be suitable for mediation;
c. Issue, vary or rescind an abatement notice. The abatement notice may require an individual or several individual(s) who reside within a specified unit to stop the ongoing nuisance;
d. Enter a place of residence to stop ongoing nuisance or seize nuisance-causing object, with or without the consent of the legal owner or occupier; and
e. Apply to the CDRT for an order requiring the nuisance-maker to undergo formal psychiatric assessment and/or treatment if necessary, where the public officer or dedicated personnel suspects that the nuisance maker has a mental health issue that contributes to the nuisance behaviour.
B. Enhancements to the Mediation Framework
11. Mediation is a powerful tool that helps parties bridge their differences and find a way forward together. We encourage mediation as an alternative form of dispute resolution to litigation and arbitration, as it gives parties more control over the process and outcome and is also quick and cost-effective. Most importantly, it enables parties to preserve their relationships by seeking an amicable resolution.
12. In this regard, community mediation has proven to be effective in resolving neighbour disputes. At the Community Mediation Centre (“CMC”), voluntary cases that proceed to mediation have a high settlement rate of about 80%. However, mediation is currently voluntary and many neighbours do not take up mediation. For example, less than 30% of cases referred to CMC proceed to mediation because one or more parties refuse to participate.
13. To improve the uptake of mediation, we propose to enhance the mediation framework by:
a. Introducing mandatory mediation. Besides issuance of NMMs by public officers or dedicated personnel for certain types of community disputes (see paragraph 10b), the CMC will also be able to issue NMMs to mandate re-mediation for voluntary mediation cases that were previously settled, but where settlement agreement terms have subsequently been breached. For a start, all cases for mandatory mediation will be handled by the CMC.
b. Registration of settlement agreements. To make it easier for settlement agreements to be enforced, the CMC-mediated settlement agreements may, with the consent of all parties to the settlement agreement, be registered with the CDRT as a CDRT order. A breach of a registered settlement agreement will be akin to a breach of a CDRT order. This is an improvement as currently, parties can only enforce their mediated settlement agreement via civil claims.
14. In parallel, the CMC will continue to increase the awareness and accessibility of community mediation. This includes offering face-to-face mediation at six satellite locations at selected ServiceSG Centres and Community Clubs.4 The CMC will also offer virtual mediation for residents in selected GRCs in due course.
C. Enhancements to Processes of the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals
15. The CDRT will remain an avenue of last resort for cases where earlier interventions have not succeeded in resolving the dispute. Court proceedings are not, by their nature, suited to preserving good neighbourly relationships – proceedings are adversarial in nature and usually result in a zero-sum outcome. We therefore encourage community disputes to be resolved amicably so that longer-term relations between neighbours can be maintained.
16. For cases that do reach the CDRT, it is likely that these cases would have undergone prior attempts to resolve the dispute, e.g. through informal negotiations by GRLs, or mediation at the CMC. Despite these attempts, some cases may remain difficult to resolve. For these disputes that are difficult to resolve, we propose to adjust the CDRT process to deliver faster and more effective relief to affected residents.
17. We propose to enhance the CDRT process in the following ways:
a. Requirement of pre-filing mediation. A person may not commence a CDRT claim against his or her neighbour, unless he or she has first attempted mediation or if the requirement of mediation has been waived;
b. Registration of settlement agreements as a CDRT order. Disputing neighbours who reach a mediated settlement may register their settlement agreement as a CDRT order. If one party subsequently breaches the terms of the registered settlement agreement, the consequences relating to non-compliance with a CDRT order will follow;
c. Interim orders. The CDRT may grant interim relief, pending the final determination of the claim;
d. Enhanced levers for tenant-occupied properties. Currently, the CDRT can already require a landlord to put up a compliance bond at the Special Direction stage.5 If the CDRT does so, the landlord may terminate the tenancy without incurring liability. This proposal makes this lever available at an earlier stage of the process. A neighbour who experiences nuisance from a tenant-occupied property will be able to serve a notice to the landlord, requiring the landlord to take steps to ensure that the tenant stops causing the nuisance. Where the notice has been served and the tenant does not stop causing the nuisance within the requisite period, the neighbour may commence a CDRT claim against the tenant, and in addition seek an order for the landlord to put up a compliance bond and ensure that the tenant complies with the CDRT order;
e. Mandatory Treatment Orders. The CDRT will be empowered to order a person to undergo mandatory assessment and/or treatment if he/she has a mental health issue that contributes to his/her nuisance-causing behaviour;
f. Request for adjudication of disputes by CDRT. Public officers or dedicated personnel may file a request for the CDRT to assume jurisdiction over a neighbour dispute (where parties do not wish to commence a claim on their own initiative); and
g. Costs framework and consequences for non-attendance at mediation. The CDRT will be empowered to award costs to a party to compensate him/her for the time and work required for the proceedings, and all expenses reasonably incurred. In doing so, the CDRT will consider whether a party has made reasonable efforts at amicable resolution, or sought to delay or impede the resolution of the dispute. The potential costs consequence acts as a further deterrence against parties who unreasonably refuse to participate in mediation, or who drag out proceedings.
Summary of Proposals
18. In summary, the CDMF enhancements comprise:
a. Providing public officers and dedicated personnel acting on behalf of government agencies with powers to triage, investigate and take enforcement action in respect of serious cases of neighbour disputes – starting with application to disputes over noise nuisance;
b. Enhancing the mediation framework to resolve more neighbour disputes at an earlier stage, including through mandatory mediation and the registration of settlement agreements; and
c. Enhancing CDRT processes to facilitate quicker and more effective resolution of disputes that are difficult to resolve.
Guidelines for Submission of Feedback
19. We request that all interested parties submit their feedback on the proposed CDMF enhancements using the template in the link or button below. All submissions should be sent before 31 May 2023, 6.00pm.
20. We will review all feedback received and refine the proposals where appropriate. We will also publish a summary of the key feedback received on the REACH website, together with our response, following the end of the public consultation.
1 We last conducted a public consultation in 2014 to seek views on improving the management of community disputes.
2 For example, seeking consent prior to the exercise of certain powers and requiring suitable written approval or the permission of the CDRT to proceed without consent.
3 Such unreasonable interference is also known as “nuisance” in this paper.
4 These are: (a) ServiceSG @ Our Tampines Hub; (b) ServiceSG @ One Punggol; (c) ServiceSG @ Frontier CC; (d) Geylang Serai CC; (e) Toa Payoh West CC; and (f) Nee Soon East CC.
5 A Special Direction is issued when the CDRT finds that its initial order has not been complied with.